The Work Seminar

Ep. 11: Holly Fletcher - MS in Journalism Turned Media & Communications Strategist

January 12, 2022 Jesse Butts Season 1 Episode 11
The Work Seminar
Ep. 11: Holly Fletcher - MS in Journalism Turned Media & Communications Strategist
Show Notes Transcript

Holly dreamt of working in journalism and attending grad school since grade school. And live that dream she did.

After earning her master’s in journalism from Columbia, she started in trade pubs, moved to reporting for her hometown The Tennessean, and then founded BirdDog. 

During that time, Holly’s field changed. Legacy journalism slowly and steadily abandoned deep investigation, exhaustive data analysis, and the stories readers needed to know. 

That’s when she made the leap to in-house communications and media strategy. 

It wasn’t a seamless transition. But she realized audiences still craved expert knowledge and insights. Now Holly’s able to disseminate vital healthcare news in a manner she never would have considered during grad school.

Books & other resources mentioned

No Time to Spare by Ursula Le Guin

Clay Christensen’s works

Ben Thompson’s “Stratechery” newsletter

A sample of Holly’s work

Vanderbilt Health DNA: Discoveries in Action podcast

BirdDog

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Jesse Butts:

Welcome to The Work Seminar, the podcast for people with liberal arts advanced degrees considering work outside their fields of study. Hi everyone. Thanks for tuning in to another episode. I'm your host, Jesse Butts. Today I'm chatting with Holly Fletcher, an MS in journalism from Columbia University turned media and Communication Strategist. Holly is now the Director of Media Equity and Emerging Platforms at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which manages more than 2 million patient visits every year. Holly, welcome to the show. Thrilled to have you here.

Holly Fletcher:

Hi, thank you for having me. It's great to be here.

Jesse Butts:

Before we talk a bit about your your career progression, how you found your way from that master's in journalism to what you're doing now, can you tell us a little bit about your job? What exactly is a media and communications strategist?

Holly Fletcher:

Well, that's a really good question because it's going to vary per person per organization. You see a lot of that word, strategist, media strategist, content strategist, it's really common. And I would dare say that most people, and there is some overlap, but it's really dependent upon what your organization needs and what they define it as. So mine was a little bit of a catch all term. When I joined Vanderbilt in late 2018, I had been a consultant and working on a journalism kind of experiment, if you will, that's what I called it. So I was joining in a very kind of concept role. And it was meant to just sort of be a catch-all. And it wasn't a title that's frequently used at Vanderbilt. So we went with with that to kind of indicate I would be doing...I would have a portfolio outside the norm. And that was really why my direct manager and I went with that role. I came in as senior media strategist. And I was doing, and I still do a kind of a hodgepodge of random...it seems random, but it's all connected. It's all about the dissemination of information and how you navigate the various channels. And an institution like Vanderbilt Medical Center, like most large organizations, there are a waterfall of channels. They're in every division, every department, every subdivision, and you have your main channels, you have your marketing. And so what I do, what I have done is a lot of de novo new-to-Vanderbilt projects. And that is very much my background, is building things from the ground up and launching. I'm not a town manager, and I would bristle like a wet porcupine if I just had to do the same thing day in day out. I've helped them think about some internal news strategies around an app that the IT team built. I worked with them as kind of the news content expert about how people engage with information, what are they looking for, why is it they would use a, they would use what is a since essentially a local news app to Vanderbilt, right? VUMC now has roughly 30,000 employees around the midstate. So you're talking about, and because it's a health system and academic medical center, people work 24 hours a day. It never closes. So there's always someone who needs information. And they could be anywhere. So how do you think about...and so you're really thinking then about connecting a small town to news or even a medium-sized town to news. And then I also am the Vanderbilt person on the Vanderbilt Health DNA podcast. That was a new platform to Vanderbilt and their first foray into a...it's kind of branded but it's not a press release and it's not marketing. It's very, it's an editorialize podcast about issues at the nexus of society, medicine, and research. So everything around us impacts our health, from microaggressions to climate change, to whether people or not participate in clinical trials. And so we really run the gamut. So I bring a very journalism view to that and help. I sit in the news and communications department and really think about what platforms are out there, where people going to be, and how do we navigate those changing fields.

Jesse Butts:

Incidentally, for listeners, this is a really fascinating podcast. I listened to actually that episode about clinical trials yesterday. It's an incredibly well polished, very interesting, incredibly well scripted podcast you should be very proud of. So I'm sorry, I'm forgetting the exact name if you wouldn't mind sharing it again for any of our listeners...

Holly Fletcher:

For the episode or the podcast?

Jesse Butts:

The podcast.

Holly Fletcher:

Oh, yeah, the podcast was not was not my choice of name, but it is not The Holly Fletcher Podcast. In fact, you won't hear my voice on there at all. It's the Vanderbilt Health DNA podcast. DNA stands for Discoveries in Action, but all you have to do is type in Vanderbilt Health DNA, and it comes up. Or you can also use #ListenDNA on Twitter and LinkedIn, and that takes you straight to link.

Jesse Butts:

Great.

Holly Fletcher:

So I appreciate that you listened. The clinical trial one, you know, that's a really interesting episode. And I like wonky stuff, as you will probably talk about. But there's really no better time ever in the past to talk about why clinical trials are important. They've been marquee news for the last 18 months. But what is a clinical trial? Most people, if you're not in research or in medicine, you probably think a placebo means you're going to get nothing, right? Whereas if you listened to the episode, you're going to learn that, if you're in a cancer trial, the placebo means you're getting the standard of care. You're getting what's already known to be the best way to fight that disease. And what they're testing them against is what could be the next standard of care. And I think it's a fascinating topic that I would not have ever dreamed I would know about or care about. But that is the beauty of what I've done in my career is I just get to learn about really nerdy stuff and tell people about it.

Jesse Butts:

And that's what the show is all about, discovering those things that we never in a million years would have thought we would have found interesting. And then, you know, kind of staking a claim in them. Sowe have a great sense of what you're doing now. You're helping Vanderbilt both with its employees, its 30,000 employees, understanding what's going on, why this matters, as well to the outside world. So I'm curious, you know, this is a really interesting world that you found. And I want to talk a bit about the journey getting here. So starting what, on this show, I consider beginning with grad school, what prompted you to enroll in grad school? What made you want to go beyond what you studied in undergrad?

Holly Fletcher:

You may start with grad school, but my journey to grad school started probably around seven or eight. So...

Jesse Butts:

Let's start there then.

Holly Fletcher:

I knew from a really young age that I wanted to be a journalist. It was the only thing I ever really wanted to be. And I think that probably if you sequence my DNA, it would come out as a newspaper. It's what I love. It's what I wake up thinking about. And it's what I go to sleep thinking about. It's all I've ever loved.

Jesse Butts:

And when you...Oh, I'm sorry.

Holly Fletcher:

Yeah.

Jesse Butts:

So when you were, you've been dreaming when you were seven or eight or maybe in high school...what type of journalist was this? Was this like cover of The New Yorker? Was this editor of your local paper? What did you think that would be back then? What was that aspiration?

Holly Fletcher:

I love all types of news. And never really wanted to cover entertainment. And I did work as a sports reporter in high school for my local paper and I was terrible. I know more about sports now than I did then. And let me tell you, my writing showed that I didn't know much about it. But they were good sports about it. And that was my part-time job in high school. I wanted to be, I would have been the editor anything you plunked me down at. From the Australian edition of Newsweek, which for a hot second was my goal, to The New York Times to The New Yorker to Reader's Digest to a food magazine, truly, I just love it. I've done everything from page design and layout to editing to column writing. I mean, I've done it, I've done it all. And it's primarily the only way I've made money since I started working at 15. And I worked at Express one summer, and I was terrible at that. And but other than that, journalism is how I've made my money. And it's the only thing I ever considered. I did for a little bit want to be the Secretary of State, and so I majored in college in international affairs with a concentration in conflict and war. So terrorism and nationalism and how you build a community. But I really looked at how people or how organizations use communication methods to build that identity. And my goal, my dream was to be a war correspondent.

Jesse Butts:

Is this like relatively soon after 9/11 when you're studying this? Or within a few years? Or...

Holly Fletcher:

Yeah, so I was studying nationalism and terrorism in yes, it was post 9/11. I was in college, 03 to 07, but I had wanted to be...I had watched Dan Rather, Christiane Amanpour. I mean, I had grown up reading newspapers, and I always wanted to travel and I wanted to cover other countries. And so I, and I didn't want to major in journalism, although I did journalism work in college. I was the editor of the school paper, a 10,000 run weekly, self-funded, and a staff of like 60.

Jesse Butts:

Oh, wow.

Holly Fletcher:

And then...yeah, so pretty legitimate thing. Yeah. So I did my co-op, I went to Northeastern in Boston, and so it's on six months, then you work for six months, and I only did one co-op at the foreign desk at the Boston Globe. And so then after college I moved to New York for an internship at the Council on Foreign Relations on their news, with essentially their news and analysis desk. Again, my goal was to be a war correspondent, or to go cover the European Union right out of Brussels. And I went to grad school because I'd always wanted to go to grad school. I love school, never really imagined not continuing.

Jesse Butts:

Yeah.

Holly Fletcher:

And I wanted to do that before I got into the workforce. Because a lot of people growing up... I was always really ambitious academically. And I grew up in a small town. And I was frequently told to do that immediately after college, because a lot of women don't make it back to grad school. They get married, have kids, and they just don't make it back. And a graduate degree was always top, it was my top priority. So that's how I got there.

Jesse Butts:

And just really quickly, for listeners who might not be familiar, what did you mean by co-op?

Holly Fletcher:

So it is a co-op school, which means cooperative education. I've not had to say co-op in its full term in years. But yeah, cooperative education, which means you...so Northeastern is a private research university. There aren't a ton of those. I'm not really into higher ed, so I won't go too much more into that. But it is a five-year school rather than four. Because what happens is, starting your sophomore year, you work full time for six months, in what could possibly be the field of your choice or to experiment around. And then after you finish that full time work where you get paid, like you are in the workforce, and you come back and you do school for six months, co-op for six months of school. And most people do three co-ops. So they graduate over the five years with 18 months of full-time, real-world experience.

Jesse Butts:

It's a really interesting model. So returning to the timeline, so you've completed the co-op, you've been working at a couple jobs. And you've always had this ambition, not only to be a journalist, but to get that graduate degree. Then you enrolled at Columbia, which is obviously not only an Ivy League school, but unless something has changed, or I'm mistaken, it's arguably one of the top journalism schools in the country, if not the world. Did you enroll still with that desire to do war correspondence and foreign journalism? What were you feeling like during grad school?

Holly Fletcher:

I was a elated to be there. I remember the day I got accepted. It was one of those, one of the best moments in my life. It was my dream come true. You know, I had grown up in a small town in Tennessee, where f I wanted to read the New York Times, when I was home from school over Christmas break, or the summer, I had to drive 35 to 40 minutes into Nashville to one of the few places that would sell it. So to go from rural Tennessee to Columbia for journalism was just kind of unfathomable. And I loved it. By that time, and so contextually, I was starting in 08. And I had realized that the war correspondent path was very crowded, and lots of people have that ambition. and newsrooms have been shrinking for years. There aren't as many opportunities. And I realized pretty quickly, with the financial crisis of 08 and the fall of the of Lehman Brothers, and just the hemorrhaging on Wall Street, that I was very much going to be looking for whatever job paid the bills. So I also took business reporting, I did a lot of business reporting, and kind of opinion writing. I knew that coming out of grad school, I had to have a job and had to pay rent. I had to buy groceries, and there wasn't going to be a backstop for me. So I just applied to anywhere that would take me. I got kind of far in an interview process for the paper in Casper, Wyoming. And I did not get that job. Instead, I wound up in financial journalism covering the power and utility space. So the electric grid, which really, without going into too much detail on that, consists of companies that are based in Canada and the US primarily, with a lot of investors from around the world. So sovereign wealth, infrastructure funds, pension funds, private equity from all over. And that was a real learning curve. For me, I didn't have a background in infrastructure, and the power grid, or finance. My reporting, much like sports reporting in high school, showed it the first six months. But I quickly got the hang of it. And I stayed in that job for almost five and a half years, and going from associate reporter to senior reporter, some social media manager for other publications thrown in there. And when I left, I was managing editor of the publication.

Jesse Butts:

This is...you're still in New York through all of this?

Holly Fletcher:

Yeah. I did spend one year in Portland, Oregon, but I worked remotely for this job. So I just I worked East Coast hours on West Coast time.

Jesse Butts:

That sounds like it would be an adjustment.

Holly Fletcher:

It was. Luckily my commute was from the bedroom to the living room. So I didn't have to go very far.

Jesse Butts:

So as you, you're talking about the practical realities of needing to find work right after grad school. And when you took this position, with this trade publication in an industry you didn't have experience in, can you tell us a little bit about your approach? Because obviously, you progressed there. I mean, you left as managing editor. Was it something where you came in neutral and started liking it? How did you eventually, or maybe it wasn't eventually, but how did you latch on to that employer?

Holly Fletcher:

I came in nervous, very nervous. I knew I didn't know anything. I had a little bit of experience with biofuels from some work I had done on an internship in Brussels. And so I had had a little bit of familiarity with that. And I remember thinking, at some point in my first couple of months, oh shit, biofuels is not even remotely related to what I'm covering. It was just, I mean, every day it was like standing under Niagara Falls, because a trade publication, you are top dollar. I think at the time when I started, we were maybe 2800 a year for a subscription. If people are willing to pay that they expect quality in return.

Jesse Butts:

One would think, yeah.

Holly Fletcher:

They were not getting quality this first few months. But the thing about journalism is, you're taught, you're trained to know that no matter how dumb you sound asking questions, the dumber you sound asking questions, means there's less of a chance you're going to sound dumb when you write. So, and because I had worked as a journalist covering sports in high school, having to approach coaches from either side winner and loser and ask questions about which I knew very little about, I already had experience being like, Okay, so I'm going to say these words, and hopefully we can have a conversation about this. And I read a lot. I quickly got proficient in SEC filings and filings with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, reports from Moody's and S&P. I mean, I read and read and read. I printed out these reports, and I would just read them and mark them up. And I worked my tail off. So I learned really fast that you have to...I learned how to bluff. Truly, you know, because I was talking with investment bankers and lawyers who made infinitely more money than me, had been in the field a long time, pretty much had nothing in common with me, except we are people. Primarily middle age white men who are worth a lot of money. And there, I was fresh out of grad school, thinking, I thought I'd be somewhere in Europe or Asia, you know, covering XYZ. This was not what I was prepared for at all. But somewhere along the way, I really got hooked on following the money, and then infrastructure, and how both of that underpins society. And I got good at what I did.

Jesse Butts:

Is diving deep, regardless of the subject, or maybe not quite regardless of the subject, but is that something that is has always been a trait or passion of yours? Or was it something that really developed in this role where you didn't know anything about what you were getting into in terms of the subject matter?

Holly Fletcher:

That is a really good question. And I've always been a fast learner, and school always came easy. And I retain information well, but, you know, going into journalism, no matter what part of journalism you're in, you sort of have to be adept at becoming an expert, sometimes on the spot. If you're a general news reporter, you don't know what your day is going to be. And you could be covering anything or multiple things in one day. So you get really skilled at thinking about what do I need to know to push this forward? Because only historians care about what happened a year ago. Most people want to know what's going to happen tomorrow. What does this mean for me? And really early, I'd say about a year into my career at Power, Finance and Risk, the trade pub, I was at a conference. And I think he was the head of a power M&A team at the time for one of the investment banks. But most people wouldn't acknowledge they knew me, because they didn't want their colleagues to think they were the ones giving the reporter confidential information. So I was always an outcast and visible because not only was I one of the only women there, I was one of the only young women, and I was a reporter. So I was a pariah based on you know, pretty much...

Jesse Butts:

Like the hat trick of pariahs.

Holly Fletcher:

The what?

Jesse Butts:

It's like the hat trick of pariahs, you were...

Holly Fletcher:

Right

Jesse Butts:

Yeah.

Holly Fletcher:

Yeah, I had it all. And he sat at the table with me. I ate alone a lot. And he sat at the table with me one morning for breakfast, and I had just had a big scoop about a utility being purchased. And I had worked on it for weeks. It was the hardest story for me to pin down. And I was really proud when I did. We sent out the email at like eight o'clock at night. We never did after hours emails like that. But I had worked my tail off for weeks to nail this down. And some of my usual sources had essentially been like Holly, we think you're crazy. You're usually on spot, but no one's heard about this. But it had just been well kept. And so I was telling him a little bit about how hard I worked on that. And that even after they had published, there were some people, there was one notable person who called me up to express suprise that I had run this and he had not heard anything about it. So how could I be right when he, you know, investment banker to investment bankers did not know about it. And he called me back twice. We hung up. It was a Friday afternoon. And he called me back again with more questions. He was polite, but you could tell he was dumbfounded. He was flummoxed. And so I was telling this other banker who had the backbone to eat breakfast with me in public. And he said, Holly, you know, it's not about for me whether or not you were right. He was like, you have your reputation, because you usually are. But it is more about you wrote it, because that gives me a reason to call my client up and say, Hey, did you read PFR? And it's an icebreaker. And he said, No, people keep reading you because you're usually pretty on target. Because M&A is a moving target, right? You're usually in the ZIP code. That was really common. I wanted to be in the ZIP code. And that was a really seminal moment for me that I have always reflected on is that, and I think about that a lot to this day, it serves me, no matter what you're doing...What you think you're giving people is not how they're using it. It's not how they're absorbing it. And so there's such a disconnect. And Ursula Le Guin wrote about this, to some degree, in one of her collections, a blog post, No Time to Spare. You, the writer, envision this thing, or this product. But once you put it out there, it's not yours anymore. What you think you're creating is, ultimately, just your perception. Because everyone else who looks at it, or sees it, is going to have an entirely different perception. And I learned that. That was, I think, that was more valuable, that comment over that breakfast was more valuable to me, in thinking about my career, and shaping my path, than graduate school.

Jesse Butts:

In what sense, exactly?

Holly Fletcher:

in the sense that in graduate school, you're being trained to do something. You're being trained to be adept in your field. But really, on the other side, what I have found is most interesting, and what has driven my career, is recognizing that what I create is useful in other ways for other people. So if I'm going to be if I'm going to be relevant to them and create an audience, wherever that is, whether it's a subscriber base, or followers, you know, I did my BirdDog journalism experiment in 2018, or at Vanderbilt with the app or the podcast, and the podcast is a prime example. What I think I'm creating, or what I set out to create, is going to have its own life once it's out there. And I'm not going to be able really to control that. And so I have to be making sure that I'm creating something that people either want or they need. And my bailiwick is not what people want. I'm never going to be writing about the music or the sports or the Kardashians, if they're still on TV. I don't know. What my interests have always been, even back in college and before that, is the really nerdy stuff that people need to know. But do they even know they need to know it? So that's where my career lies. And I realized pretty early that I have a skill at explaining tricky concepts. I can break them down into English. And that has served me really well.

Jesse Butts:

So as you've had all this experience with the trade publication, and you've come to this realization, I mean, you mentioned you were there about five years. What did you do after that? Did you continue in the trade publication field? Did you do something else?

Holly Fletcher:

I did not continue in trades. But one thing about going from a trade publication to a more mainstream publication is all of a sudden you're losing sophistication in your readership. You're not writing for people who are steeped in the details. And you constantly kind of have to water things down a bit or skim over the details. And it's the details and the nuance that make it interesting for me, right? If we're going to talk about tax equity, and how the IRS is thinking about that, I want to get into the nitty gritty, because that's what makes it sexy for a trade publication audience, not necessarily for general readership, right. So I pretty quickly realized I would probably need to change industries because I didn't think I was a purist when it came to energy and infrastructure, and I was always going to want to get into the nitty gritty and editors were not going to like that. So I was recruited in to be the business of healthcare reporter at The Tennessean in Nashville. And Nashville, in case your listeners don't know, if Houston is the epicenter of energy in the US. Kind of distribution, oil, gas...Houston's the center of that. Nashville is the Houston of hospital operators. A report just came out from the Nashville Health Care Council in the last week. It contributes, I'm pretty sure I saw the number was 70 billion to the local economy. I mean, it's a huge field here. HCA, Community Health Systems, Lifepoint, Ardent, these are all hospital operators. HCA was the first one in Nashville and is a behemoth. And...

Jesse Butts:

And that's Hospital Corporation of America?

Holly Fletcher:

Yeah.

Jesse Butts:

Okay. Gotcha. So when you did return, I'm sorry not return, when you did join The Tennessean, did being close to where you grew up have any appeal? Or was it really just the opportunity with this healthcare sector reporting?

Holly Fletcher:

No, I mean, The Tennessean was the newspaper I grew up read reading and I have to say, that was kind of the fulfillment of my childhood dream, you know.

Jesse Butts:

Okay.

Holly Fletcher:

I always associate writing for The Tennessean, being a reporter for The Tennessean was a surreal experience. And I'm wildly privileged that I got to do that for three years. And it was, it would have made high school-aged Holly thrilled to know that she had done that.

Jesse Butts:

You've mentioned before the journalism experiment called BirdDog. Can you explain a little bit about this? Was this something you did after leaving the Tennessean?

Holly Fletcher:

Yes, so I left the Tennessean after three years, and it just wasn't a fit. What I like to do, and what I'm good at, I don't know necessarily fits into a lot of newsrooms right now. People would be surprised to know that readers spend like an average of eight to 10 seconds in news stories. What can you learn in eight to 10 seconds? And again, I realized that I liked, that what I needed was to be doing new stuff, constantly trying something new for an audience that didn't need every time you wrote a health care story, which was my beat, a reminder that the ACA was passed in XYZ year and here's what it did. I mean, day to day is like, Okay, I have my readers, they know this. And the people who are reading about the Titans or about Dolly Parton are probably not reading my business of healthcare story. So is it really necessary? And I had been watching a lot of these kind of one-person shops pop up. I had really been paying attention since 2013 to Ben Thompson, Stratechery, or Daring Fireball. And I was thinking about doing my own thing. And people coming out of the trade publication and umbrella company that I was in, they were a very entrepreneurial group. And you saw a lot of people kind of strike off to do their own thing. It wasn't necessarily considered competition if you had your own niche, and it was very much in the vein of the people who had come through there. And I had been kind of scratching out what I wanted to do. I wanted to try some new stuff that I kept watching. And I was particularly interested in this race car, this NASCAR reporter whose name I'm not remembering. He left the USA Today family to go do...it wasn't on Patreon, but it was something of the sort...his own one-person shop of trade pub reporting, essentially, but on NASCAR. And I had begun to really think that niche was the way forward, that you can't be everything to everybody. And newspapers are trying too hard to still do that. They're trying to cover too many things with too few people on a 24 hour news cycle, and a lot of them are failing at all of it. And that wasn't what I wanted to be doing. That wasn't the way forward. So I stuck out in 2018, I left my job at the end of 2017. And then in March of 2018, I launched BirdDog. And it covered the...it was essentially around slow news. And it was not going to have the the context. So if I was writing something about the ACA, you weren't going to have that it what was passed in XYZ and blah, blah. I assumed my readers knew that. And I came at this from more of a trade pub approach, because I think that niche is the way of news of the future. And that was really what I focused on slow news. It came out, it morphed into a Sunday morning publish an email. It was a hodgepodge of things that was very curated for people who would be interested in healthcare, technology, and the economy of the future. So what does the workforce of the future look like? And education, because those are all different sides of the same dice, and you can't have one without the other. And all of this stems from my overarching viewpoint is information is a utility, it is infrastructure, you have to have it for society to run. And if you look at the financial world, people pay a lot of money for these analysis missives from traders or investors or analysts. And that is a thriving marketplace. And so if that can happen there, why can't that happen in other parts of the news world, right? So that was my theory. And BirdDog went from an audience of zero to 2400, across all platforms, in six months, and it was a hustle. And I was working seven days a week. It was nonstop. And a couple of big companies did want to include it in their media budget for 2019. But once you accept money, that changes something, and it's less of an experiment, and it becomes a product. And I wasn't ready to make it a product, it was very much an experiment. So there was a natural wind down point, and it felt like it had come to the end.

Jesse Butts:

And when you reach that end, is that when you join Vanderbilt?

Holly Fletcher:

I joined Vanderbilt a couple months after. Vanderbilt had tried to recruit me in right before I learned I launched BirdDog, but I was already too far down. And I wanted to do it. And my polite answer was I've wanted to do this since 2013. It's 2018. I had to scratch this itch. I mean, I have to. Flattering, but this is my path. So once I realized that big experiment was winding down, I learned really what I wanted to. And I think I proved out that my, that my hypothesis was right.

Jesse Butts:

So when you joined Vanderbilt a few years ago, what was the thing to sink your teeth into with this organization like you had with the trade publication? You know, at The Tennessean you were really digging into health care policy, perhaps not to the extent that you wanted to because of the general readership, but what have you found to be that really unique, intriguing thing that you've dived into here?

Holly Fletcher:

It took me a while to come to terms with that. I was on the other side of communications. I was excited about the challenge and the work going in. But it also...it hit me really hard that I was leaving behind the career path I always wanted to be in. And I knew I was going to need something to help me get over that. And to come to terms with what was next. And it was a really hard transition. It was a really tough one. I had to do a lot of thinking about, What is it I'm looking for? What satisfies me? What fulfills me? Because I knew that journalism itself, the way it's gone in the last few years is not it? Yeah, I don't do the man chases raccoon stories. I loathe them. I loathe clickbait. And so I knew I wasn't necessarily cut out for that. But I didn't know what to expect from joining Vanderbilt. So I was really interested in really digging into kind of the health policy side, and some of the really important research that comes out of Vanderbilt. And in going back to my knees to my trade pub view, if I'm bearish on journalism, which I am, but I'm bullish on the dissemination of information, which I am, where does that come from? Well, that comes from institutions or agencies or enterprises that have expertise. And you have...the world is so splintered in terms of where people get information, you can be your own font of news. And so as media shrinks, in the first quarter of 2019, I think it's something like 1000 journalism jobs were lost across the country, those aren't coming back. And I knew that coming out of the Tennessean, every day was like standing under Niagara Falls. You were just hoping to survive there. There wasn't time to do the really ambitious projects that most journalists set out to do. So if you can't do that in journalism, where do you do that? Because people still need that, as evidenced by the downloads on the DNA podcast and the season one downloads. Several of them were in the top 10% for podcasts distributed by Libsyn, which is the primary distributor of podcasts. We have one episode for this season, within 75 hours of launch was already in the top I think 12%, I would have to check that.

Jesse Butts:

Wow.

Holly Fletcher:

So there is appetite. But if they're not getting it from local news, which they're probably not, that's an opportunity. It's a pain point for journalism and for people who want news. But it's an opportunity for enterprises that already have a wealth of information. And so the news and comm team is quite large. It's about 20 people. Not everyone is a writer, but most people are. And so that's essentially a newsroom, right? And so, finding ways to make sure that we're getting that bundle of news and information to people is essential, because Vanderbilt University Medical Center is a powerhouse in vaccine research and has been for decades. Vaccine Safety, vaccine tracking side effects. There, Dr. Kathryn Edwards is one of the people who is kind of, she was instrumental in setting up the vaccine surveillance systems that track side effects for infectious diseases around the world. And growing up in this area, I didn't know that Vanderbilt was a vaccine powerhouse, even though they were. So you have this opportunity in this world of, if everyone is a new source, and they are...look at Twitter, look at LinkedIn, Facebook...And if you're a legitimate institution, you have, it's my view and I don't speak for Vanderbilt, but it's my view that institutions like that have an onus on them to impart what they know, because journalism is struggling. And there's no two ways around that. But people still need information. They need to know that there are scientists and researchers out there working constantly to push things forward. And you used to read about some stuff in Sunday newspapers. Sunday newspapers are not what they used to be. So that's a lot of what I do now, is think about how can we get the ideas, reporting, the ideas, journalism, because that's always where I wanted to be. After a war correspondent, I wanted to be an opinion columnist or writing about ideas in the Sunday paper. Well, very few people did that. And then they started shrinking and even fewer got to do it. Right. Again, then I can do that for myself on LinkedIn. You can build that audience. And so you can do that for institutions. And that's what I'm doing with Vanderbilt.

Jesse Butts:

So we've talked about so many really fascinating things with how you approach work, how you took that desire to tell stories, to disseminate information, when you realized that journalism, or at least the traditional view of journalism, wasn't the conduit for that. Finding a different way to do that. So I'm curious, for you personally, do you need to love a job? Do you need to simply like something that's nine to five and have some balance outside of work? What does that look like for you?

Holly Fletcher:

I used to need to love it. And I loved journalism. And I loved what I did, even on the days that were miserable and I hated it. I wouldn't have traded it for anything in the world. And like I said, that transition was very hard. And my husband, ultimately, sometime later down the road said, I realized you were going through a divorce. You were divorcing journalism. And it was, it was painful. I went through the same stages of grief. Because again, it was the only thing I wanted to do. And really, you know, in some ways, all those adages about if you do what you love, you never work a day in your life, or follow your passion. I think that's bullshit. I've come to that conclusion. I think that's BS. So for me, I've spent a lot of time as I got over leaving, what wasn't identity, right. I mean, I was a journalist. I didn't know what else I was, what what else I wanted to do. I mean, I know what my skills are. I know what I'm good at. But if I wasn't doing it as a journalist, was I even doing it? Was I even a person? I mean, I wasn't sure. So I realized that what I need to be doing is I need to feel engaged and curious about the information. I need to be building something. I need to be conceptualizing, building, and executing. And what I like and what gets me out of bed in the morning is finding or thinking of a new way to reach a new audience and then doing it. And then once it's built, I want it to go on and live its life. Right. But it doesn't need me then. As long as that's what I can do, I'm satisfied. And I think that really, I think that for people who are overly wedded to the notion of, This is what I do. And this is who I am. In a world in which there is no kind of corporate ladder, and there's no real job security, you have to you have to constantly be curating. What is it that drives me? And what am I trying to achieve? And I think that changes.

Jesse Butts:

Do you have any advice, questions to ask yourself for any people in those situations who are trying to figure out what it is that drives them? And that matters beyond the identity of the occupation that they've conflated with their identity as a person?

Holly Fletcher:

I think that the questions are going to vary some, but the first one, I think that it's really tough to wrestle with is, Why do I like this? Why am I drawn to this? And if, you want to be famous, or if you want to be the best or be well known, you need to really...That was never my, my goal I wanted. I was really happy knowing if one person learned something from what I wrote. I wasn't looking to...winning appeal would have been nice, but that wasn't what I was chasing. I just wanted to know that someone learned something from me. But if you're wanting, you really have to look at, why am I so drawn to this? And what does that say? What can I learn? And when I realized that I loved journalism because I got to learn something new every day. And it was the chase that I liked more than the actual writing part. The writing part was just what I had to do, because I had gone through the chase, I'd gotten the information, I learned it. And it was like, oh, yeah, now I have to write about it. Sure.

Jesse Butts:

People have to figure this out somehow, right?

Holly Fletcher:

Yeah. Someone has to know about now that I know about it. Once I realized it was the chase and it was the learning process, it was like, Okay, then I need to be doing something where I constantly learn something. What is it that? Well, I constantly learn about clinical trials, or I learn from infectious disease experts, or I learn, right now, I'm doing a lot of reading about leadership and strategy. I got really into reading about innovation and disruption, a lot of the work from Clay Christensen at Harvard. And I'm doing a lot of reading about how you lead teams through change. Because if I like to do new stuff, not everyone likes to do new stuff, and you got to bring them along, right? You got to bring them along into the vision. So how do I motivate them to that? It's like, Hey, let's not be scared of new. Let's see opportunity in new. Most people are like, Oh, new stuff, no, thank you. So you know, once I realized I like building, I like envisioning, conceptualizing and building, and then the execution, and I like learning something new, then I can start thinking about how does that fit into other jobs, and other industries. Because if we look at what I've done, I've done it in journalism. I've done it in finance. I've done it in the power and utility space. And now I do it in healthcare. I think that once you nail that down, you can move across any industry. I'm probably not going to wind up in Nashville's country music scene. Again, that's just not my jam. But once you start thinking about and you really boil down into, What is it that draws me to this? Unless it's just something really specific, you're going to be able to come out with kind of the lowest common denominators that fulfill your intellectual pursuit.

Jesse Butts:

I think that's a good note to end on. Thank you. Thank you so much for joining the podcast, Holly.

Holly Fletcher:

Thank you for having me.

Jesse Butts:

Thanks for listening to this episode of The Work Seminar. If you like what you've heard, please take a minute to rate the show on your favorite podcast app. I know someone who'd be a great Work Seminar guest, or have a suggestion or two for the show, you can reach me at Jesse@TheWorkSeminar.com, or @TheWorkSeminar on social. And special thanks, as always, to Jon Camp for the music and Isabel Patino for the cover art and design. Until next time, never cease from exploration.